Monday, February 6, 2017

That jet is next to go

a neat little piece of airportness nestled into my son's schoolwork...


I'm thinking of calling the final section of my new book "From Work to Trump." It would include, among other things, versions of some of these recent essays I've written:

After the election, walking it off.

Further thoughts on Trump in relation to environmental consciousness, specifically around the concept of the anthropocene.

Then reflecting the Women's March on Washington, and on Trump's airplane armrest transgressions. (An earlier version of this essay ended up in Airportness.)

The travel ban happens, followed by airport protests.

My idea is that this kind of writing—a medley of cultural criticism, political theory, ecological thought—all becomes part of the work of literature in an age of post-truth, even though it seems to find itself far from the Norton anthology or the English classroom. It's an interesting experiment, to be writing a book that keeps finding material as each week unravels, from "alternative facts" and the fascinating rhetorical reversals of "fake news," to new tensions within and around air travel. And then to chart how these things pick up on issues I might have touched on or seen in other contexts—especially in literary texts.

We'll see how this continues to form, or if it dissipates. In the meantime, what will happen next? What jam is next to go?


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Points of Detention

I'm writing about this image right now, a perhaps seemingly innocuous graphic that appeared above a Washington Post article last weekend:


Monday, January 23, 2017

This is the time

A Southwest 737 taking off from Reagan National the other day...a plane likely full of remarkable, strong women

What a time, what a world!

Fresh back from the Women’s March on Washington, I’m feeling inspired to write and energized to redesign my courses for the fall semester. I’ve been in a funk since the election in November, and I've also been hunkered down trying to channel whatever verve I could muster into my writing, since I had a book due this month. I just turned it in a week ago: it's called Airportness:The Nature of Flight, and it comes out in September. It’s the most carefully structured of my airport books, yet. (It's probably also the last one I'll write on this topic.) And I love how the cover came out:


Meanwhile, I signed a contract with Bloomsbury for a new book, called The Work of Literature In An Age of Post-Truth. I’m tackling some of the things in our current political moment, and thinking through a range of topics related to teaching, writing, and thinking about contemporary literature and it’s roles in the present epoch. One of the things I’ve been struggling with over the past few months is how to return to teaching once I return from sabbatical. All my old reading lists and course frameworks seem obsolete, what with the new political regime in place. I can’t imagine sitting around with my students close reading The Great Gatsby like it’s any other fall semester. (Not that’s how I really teach, but…you know what I mean.)

On the other hand, with Trump as our once unimaginable president, maybe The Great Gatsby is the perfect book to read: the worship of power, shady background dealings, toxic nostalgia, destructive secrecy…it’s all in Fitzgerald’s pages. But I feel like I need to reassess exactly what I’m teaching, and how I'm teaching it—especially my twentieth century American fiction course. In one of the chapters of my new book I’m going to work through some of my previous required readings for this course, and also explore some new stories and novels that I’ve read this year—thinking about how these American fictions I haven't yet taught speak to and speculate about the moment we’re now in, in the nonfiction world ("alternative facts" notwithstanding).

While driving back from DC I also sketched out a few new ideas in my head, which hopefully I can wrangle into essays and pitch them to places over the next couple months. So I've got a lot to do over the remaining months of my sabbatical. But I'm convinced that this is the time to do get to work, if we want things to change for the better. This is the time. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Summer recap

dunes, clouds, trees...up in Michigan

I’ve been up in Michigan again this summer, spending a lot of time with my family, as well as getting out in the woods and fly fishing on my favorite lakes and streams. I’ve also been getting some work done.

I published a piece on careerism in college at Public Books—it’s part of a short book I’m working on about liberal arts education. This year I am going to volunteer at the small public school I graduated from in northern Michigan, offering guidance and advice to juniors and seniors who are researching college options. Since I graduated from high school, I’ve had experiences at four quite different institutions around the country—as a student and as an instructor—and I hope I can help some students in their searches for a good fit. I hope to learn about what high school students think about college, and see how this accords (or not) with my sense of liberal arts education in the early twenty-first century. If the experience is interesting, I’ll write about it—maybe it will even become a part of the book.

I wrote a review of Don DeLillo’s novel Zero K for 3:AM Magazine.

I wrote a piece for Inside Higher Ed on how scholars can use Twitter.

I revised a book chapter for a collection called Sweet Spots: Interstitial New Orleans. The book should be out sometime next year from the University Press of Mississippi, and my chapter is about Louis Armstrong International Airport as a specially liminal space.

I wrote an article for a transportation-themed issue of ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies of Literature and Environment. My contribution is, not surprisingly, on air travel—but I’m moving in new directions that come out of my current book-in-progress, Airportness: The Nature of Flight.

I’m making good headway on Airportness and plan to deliver the final manuscript in December.  There’s still a lot to do, but I am at the point where I can visualize it in my mind—I can see the shape of the whole book, and see how the pieces have to fit together. It’s a fun if also daunting part of the book assembly project: moving blocks of writing around, creating transitions, experimenting with formal flourishes and other structural details, and so on.

I’ll present a piece from Airportness at the Western Literature Association conference in Big Sky, Montana, later this month. My paper is called “Airportness in the West: Fame, Fantasy, Frontier.” I'm on a panel called Dispatches from the Post-West.

Meanwhile I’ve been reframing my “Up in Michigan” book project, and I have focused it on broader issues of ‘place’ and the problems and possibilities of landscape ecology in the age of the Anthropocene. I’ve honed a fresh version of the proposal and hope to finish the book during the second half of my sabbatical year (so, January through next summer). Reading Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk prompted me to think creatively about how I can indulge in nature writing while also critiquing it from the inside, as it were.

Lit Hub revealed a bunch of new book covers and titles signed for our series Object Lessons. We’re about to enter an intense period of serious manuscript editing, as we prepare to release a mega-batch of books in the series in late 2017. If only I could have a bunch of my wonderful Loyola students up here in Michigan, to help me with the series! (Luckily, I have a couple dedicated students working with me from afar.)

I’m heading now into sabbatical, for real. It is very odd to be feeling the sun shift to the south up here in Michigan…usually by this point we are back in the sweltering heat of New Orleans, settling into our autumn rhythms there. It’s strange to not be in the classroom. I don’t miss all the various meetings and never-ending budget crises, but do I miss my colleagues and my students. Yet here we are in the north country, and just last night it got very cool. Wind in the pines, a kind of wind I haven't felt in a long time. The bracken fern have all turned gold, on the hillsides. It’s very dark now in the mornings, when I get up to write.


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Airport Battle


Last week I followed one of those frequently insane suggestions on Amazon for things I might be interested in, based on my browsing history. And, I’ll admit, this one was immediately intriguing: it said Lego Airport Battle. The full description was Super Hero Airport Battle, and as I inspected this set I was at turns baffled, turned off, and utterly delighted.

The set is apparently based on a scene from the recent blockbuster Captain America: Civil War, which features a tumultuous battle on the tarmac.


Think about what the Lego set does with this scene. All the objects and operations of the airport are distilled to the bare minimum: a Tug and baggage cart (replete with spilling suitcases), some illuminated wands for the (absent) ramp worker, barricades with no-entry signs, and an air traffic control tower. Some cryptic containers, too. All else is implied, and the scene is given over to the Marvel super heroes who are wreaking havoc on the non-place. On the Lego packaging, the tarmac is busted and the baggage cart is tipped over. In the movie, the floor-to-ceiling windows get smashed, a car park is demolished, and explosions rock the terminal (among other acts of destruction).

This Lego set and the cinematic scene it is based on got me wondering: why stage attacks at airports, whether for terror purposes or entertainment? I decided to write about this for The Atlantic.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Review of The End of Airports

Nice brief review of The End of Airports in the Times Literary Supplement:


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Back Up in Michigan

a beaver swims in the distance, across one of my favorite lakes on a still morning

I'm back up in Michigan, this time for a full year! Sabbatical—I never thought it would feel so good.

I've always thrived on the synergy between teaching and writing, but I now understand the great gift of sabbatical, to take a step back from teaching—hopefully to reassess, rethink, and reimagine life in the classroom. And also to truly focus on writing. During the school year I tend to write in undisciplined bursts in the middle of the night or whenever I can grab a few minutes to jot down a sentence. I'm looking forward to sitting down in the daytime and really stretching out into my writing.

I'm working on three books right now, and they stop and start in unexpected ways. I'm trying to let myself follow the whims and explosions of thought around each of these projects. I pick them up and put them down as ideas occur to me, as research forays present themselves.

The first book I am going to finish is Airportness. This book is turning out to be very fun to write—I'm taking a more structured approach to the topic than my previous airport books did, and this structure is pushing me in new directions. I'm also revisiting a lot of material that I wasn't able to include in my first two books, and in many cases the time lag is turning out to be beneficial—things just get weirder and weirder when it comes to air travel, and some things that seemed prescient or insightful a few years ago are even more so, now.

Once Airportness is done, I plan to turn to my Michigan book, a strange book about place and eco-criticism—it keeps changing form in my mind and on the page, shifting from one thing to another. I've been thoroughly enjoying Helen Macdonald's book H is for Hawk, as well as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's new book Stone. Both of these books are helping me think about how to write a different kind of 'nature' book.

Then I'm also working on a short book about liberal arts—I'm calling it "a quiet manifesto." Like David Foster Wallace sitting in an airport coffee shop writing about his cruise ship experience after seven days in the Caribbean Sea, I'm sitting up in the woods writing about my seven years teaching in a liberal arts context at a small university in New Orleans. (The analogy breaks down, at this point.)

Other than my own writing projects, we've got some thrilling new Object Lessons books in the works. More on those soon, but I just want to say here how gratifying this series has been to work on, with such great support from Haaris Naqvi and the entire Bloomsbury team, and my unswerving co-editor Ian Bogost. We have four wonderful new titles in the series coming out next month: Hair, Bread, Questionnaire, and Password. (Also, Ian's new book comes out in the fall, and it's so good!)

Finally, Mark Yakich and I are excited to see our edited collection of essays Airplane Reading hit the shelves next month. If you are looking for some good summer reading, this book is it.

I'll try to update this blog more frequently, now that I have more time for disciplined writing habits to form. But, we'll see.



Friday, May 6, 2016

Introducing Kara Thompson (& Environmental Cultures)


This week I had the pleasure of hosting my great friend Kara Thompson at Loyola. Kara and I were at UC Davis together as graduate students, and we've been trying to coordinate a visit to one of our campuses or the other for several years—and it finally worked out. The timing ended up being perfect in many ways. Kara visited my classes, and I was so pleased with how my students engaged Kara's work (and I was delighted that Kara managed to assign the perfect reading with which to wrap up the semester, Mel Y. Chen's "Toxic Animacies, Inanimate Affections"). Later in the day Kara gave a wonderful public talk that wove together threads from Prince, Jurassic Park, diagrams of hydraulic fracturing, Fredric Jameson, and Walt Whitman's poem "I Sing the Body Electric"—among other rich visual and cultural texts. We had a good turnout (especially considering it was so late in the semester), comprised in part of many of our terrific Environment Program students, who were a vibrant audience for Kara's presentation.

A couple years ago I started posting the introductions I write for various visitors' talks, because I realized that our written introductions for such events often end up in the trash—but I actually enjoy writing these things, and I want to preserve them somewhere (like here). So once again, here is my introduction to Kara's scintillating talk at Loyola, "Fracking and the Art of Subtext."

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Just yesterday I watched a video introduction by eco-critic Richard Kerridge for a new series of books with the theme of "Environmental Cultures." The scope of the series was astonishing and thrilling—books in the series could be about practically anything so long as the authors could make smart connections to matters of environment, ecology, or nature. So this series might include animal studies, posthumanism, feminist ecocriticism, cultural geography, disaster theory, new materialisms, queer ecology, nature writing unbound...there would seem to be no limit.

As I say, this is exciting: once we loosen our definition of "nature," or realize, rather, that there's no outside of it, anything becomes a subject, or an object of serious inquiry. Environmental studies goes anywhere, with anything. But this can be daunting, too—or just plain bonkers. Imagine sitting inside the airport to practice "environmental studies"! When you say that something is anything, where to begin (or end)? How does one demarcate a project, establish an archive, conduct experiments, interpret results, formulate a theory—any of these things, when ecology is understood to be such an endlessly seeping, leaking, expanding field? One tentative answer: you have to do it very carefully, and with keen attention to detail, contradiction, and slippage.

And this is where Kara Thompson's work comes in.

Kara Thompson, assistant professor of English and American Studies at the College of William & Mary, works on the edge—or at the intersection, or overlap—of disciplinary thought. Bringing cutting edge critical theory to bear on tense questions of borders, territory, sexuality, national identity, and indigeneity, Kara's research routinely unsettles what we might think of as set in stone. Indeed, in Kara's thinking even "rocks" become points of fascination and are thereby unsettled from their resting positions as inanimate objects.

But once the land itself becomes so open to interpretation—as in fact we know it is, from the most mundane property dispute to the most heated national border debates—then what to we do about the things that would seem to grow organically from the land, whether they be so-called invasive plants, or human settlements? How do citizens become naturalized? What is a foreigner, or a foreign object? Are attractions natural, are repellents cultural? Have these sorts of frameworks outlasted their use (and maybe for good reason)?

Everything is in play, nothing can be taken for granted. We are in the weeds, right here, across the street from Audubon Park, sitting in this nice neat quiet and climate controlled room. Welcome to "environmental cultures" writ large. This is no mere academic exercise—this is real life, fecund and brimming. Here we have to read closely and carefully, and go slowly—and we need a good guide. Kara Thompson's writing takes us into the utterly familiar, which may then turn out to be bizarrely unfamiliar. But the wager is that such interpretive adventures will make us see—and act more justly in relation to, while entangled with—the rich complexities of this world, our present place in space.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

AIRPORTNESS



Airportness: The Nature of Flight

I am very happy to announce that I just signed a contract for my next book, which will be published by Bloomsbury in fall 2017. The book is called Airportness. Here's a short description of what this book is about: 
The term “airportness” has been used to describe the architectural feel of modern terminals and concourses. In his third book about airports, Christopher Schaberg argues that airportness is not just a way of thinking about design, but also the feelings and sensations related to everyday patterns of flight. It is seeing planes in the sky, recognizing vague roars from above, and interpreting the routines of air travel—from sliding doors, to jet bridge, to lavatory. Airportness: The Nature of Flight departs from where The End of Airports left off, speculating about the future of flight and contemplating aircraft as they appear in a variety of contexts. Airportness explores how planes have become surprisingly natural objects: experienced as unquestionable set pieces, props, and passages…airportness is the rumbling background noise and ambient awareness of our lingering jet age.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Overview


Earlier this month, sitting on the tarmac on a airplane in Detroit, in the middle of what would become a three-hour runway delay, which would then turn into a twelve-hour flight cancellation and rebooking protrusion, I pulled up the map on my iPhone to show my son Julien where we were, exactly, in line for de-icing. As the satellite view focused, I watched the airliners and jet bridges blur, liquid like, as they settled into proper resolution. For a moment it resembled a Wayne Thiebaud cityscape, the way the recognizable forms of the airport veered and smeared, hyperreal. I quickly captured the image mid-focus, which you can see above. My new book The End of Airports puzzles over these sorts of strange, spontaneous comportments: when we are in the airport on the brink of flight; tethered to the ground while visualizing ourselves soaring above the earth; or sitting in jetliners at cruising altitude feeling nowhere at all, not exactly....

Some big news, related to my new book: Nathan Heller's ruminative article on flight in this week's New Yorker, "Air Head," cites The End of Airports fairly substantially. I was delightfully surprised, and honored, to see my work on airports discussed so thoughtfully throughout Heller's piece.


My special issue of Criticism on "critical air studies" is now out; this issue features an array of scholarly inquiries into the culture of flight, and I'm very happy with how it came together. You can read the beginning of my introduction to the issue here, and here's the cover of the issue, which riffs on airport carpets (but not PDX). 



And if you are craving some lighter reading on the culture of flight, our book Airplane Reading is almost out! The book should be published in May: 54 wonderful contributions by a wide range of writers and air travelers. This book was a blast to put together with my great friend and colleague Mark Yakich. Look at the cover, a fantastic collaboration between Nancy Bernardo and the design team at Zero Books:


A couple other things while I'm in overview mode: I wrote a piece about the Millennium Falcon in the new Star Wars movie "The Force Awakens" for the Los Angeles Review of Books' Philosophical Salon, and I wrote a review of Maggie Nelson's book The Argonauts, for 3:AM Magazine

Finally, last but not least, Object Lessons continues to bloom, with fifteen books now published and many many more in the pipeline. You can hear Alison Kinney talk about her new book Hood, and me talk about the series in general, on a Jefferson Public Radio show we did together the other day. LARB also did a long interview with me & Ian about the series, and then later they ran a generous omnibus review of the first ten books in the series. I wrote a bit on the Bloomsbury Literary Studies blog about teaching with the series at Loyola, an experience I'm eager to recreate in Fall 2017, when I return from my sabbatical. Object Lessons continues to be a thrilling adventure in editing and publishing—with no end in sight. 


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Books as objects in the world

My colleague and great friend Mark Yakich's new book comes out this month; it's called Poetry: A Survivor's Guide and it is wonderful:


One small thing I love about it is that it includes a few of Mark's drawings; another thing I admire about this book is how it dares to be personal, how it tells a story about living with poetry as much as it gives practical instructions for surviving the experience of poetry (reading it, writing it).

Mark and I have collaborated on numerous projects over the past nearly seven years, and something we've always seen eye to eye on is the act of writing books as a matter of making objects in the world. While much of what goes on in the college classroom or in the solitary act of writing can be seen as abstruse or disconnected from life, there is nothing like seeing a book plop onto a table and then seeing how it moves around the world, to reassure that all this thinking, teaching, and writing amounts to something, or at least some thing.

If I haven't been writing much here on this blog, it's in part because find myself in a strange gelatinous realm where I am working on four different book projects that are staggered and weirdly related, but all requiring different modes of fiddling, writing, framing, and grant-applying.

The first one is the book Mark and I have been working on for several years, a collection called Airplane Reading. Last week Mark and I drove out to the New Orleans Lakefront Airport and sat in an empty cafe and wrote the introduction to this book; tomorrow we're going to go back out to the airport and finalize the order of pieces and submit the manuscript our press for the project, Zero Books. We're also going back and forth with the ever inspiring artist and designer Nancy Bernardo, who is fine tuning a zinger of a piece for the cover of this book. If everything stays on track, Airplane Reading will be published this coming spring. Getting away from the daily grind on our campus has helped us wrangle the project and get it into shape. It's also an incredible old airport terminal, perfect for lingering and reflection:


Next, I received a fellowship from Loyola for this coming summer to finish another project, a short book I'm calling "Liberal Arts at Work." This book is part manifesto, and part...well, "self-study." (I heard that phrase in a committee meeting yesterday.) The book also brushes up against the works of David Foster Wallace throughout, and I'm still figuring out how to highlight that aspect.

My big ongoing book project is the thing I have been calling (with increasing looseness) "Up in Michigan." It is a book about place, and what it means to write about place. This book has morphed in unexpected ways over the past few months, and I'm looking forward to really focusing on it—and finishing it—next year, when I'm on sabbatical. But in the meantime it is involving a lot of zooming out and trying to get a sense of it as a thing I can describe in graspable chunks—among other reasons, for the sake of a significant grant I am in the midst of applying for.

Finally, I realized over the past month or so that one more book on air travel has been congealing in my brain. This new one is called "The Nature of Flight," and it takes on more directly some of the eco-critical angles I've touched on in my other two books about airports.

Book projects keep me going. They connect me to others in the process of writing, and they result in things I can give to students, friends, and family. They're just books, I don't mean to make them a bigger deal than they are, but they are still real things that take on their own existence, objects in the world.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Return To Your Seat





I wrote most of the following piece a couple years ago at the urging of an editor for Travel + Leisure magazine; perhaps not surprisingly, it was a bit too abject for their tastes. Luckily I had a chance to revisit this material for my new mini Object Lesson up the Atlantic, "Consider the Lavatory."


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Have you ever found yourself in the airplane lavatory, inspecting your visage in the hazy mirror, staged in the dim light, wondering how long you’ve been standing there, how much longer you can get away with it before another passenger or a flight attendant knocks on the door? It’s a little pentagon of privacy in the otherwise public oval of the airplane. But you can't stay for long.

From the Middle English lavatorie and the Medieval Latin lavatorium, both from the Latin lavare (to wash)—how do our modern airplane bathrooms cling to this ancient appellation? There is something weirdly timeless about this space: once you go in and shut the stiff yet flimsy plastic door, everything else in the airplane vanishes, muffled in some near distance. It is a place full of mystery and suspense.

There's the small sink with faucet of uncertain water pressure—is it going to shoot out with surprising force, or just dribble onto your fingers? There are the myriad signs, minimalist icons implying warnings and instructing things like DO NOT OPEN and DEPOSIT WASTE HERE. Red stripes of caution slash through simple humanoid forms. It is a tight space, over-brimming with communications. In the lavatory when the captain makes an announcement, for once it may sound like the captain is speaking to you alone. Occasionally you'll be in there when the plane starts shaking and a calm icon illuminates with a ding, a placid command: return to your seat.

Then there is the small molded toilet with its sketchy seat, the hinged and bouncing metal flap at the bottom of the bowl (sometimes laden with soggy toilet paper or worse), and the vortex of “blue juice” sucking into the void. Do you sit or try to stay propped up, awkwardly hovering over the bowl? How clean is this place, anyway? In fact, airlines are usually pretty good at cleaning lavatories regularly and thoroughly (I know—I used to have this job). As germ-filled and claustrophobic as the lavatory may feel when you are in it, it’s also likely that it is one of the cleanest public bathrooms you’ll ever use.

Once I entered a lavatory and was surprised to see the tiny sink filled with what at first looked like trash. When I looked closer, it was actually a rather careful arrangement of sanitizing napkins—the sink was inoperable, so a clever flight attendant had placed a bouquet of packaged hand wipes in the sink, and taped a note to the mirror instructing the passengers to use these instead of washing their hands. The lavatory became a place for creative problem solving. Such initiative, such industry!

Down the aisle, passengers sit and stare at the red cartoon that denotes OCCUPIED. Who is in there, and why are they taking so long? But these two experiences of time are so different, inside and outside the lav. Outside, in a cramped seat, time drags on and it can be hard to focus on things. But in the lavatory time stands still, and everything is in focus. It’s a small, usually windowless room where everything pops into distinction, and yet where everything becomes strange, too. Where exactly are you, here? “Lavatory”—the very name bespeaks some sort of untimely place, some space out of joint.  What rhymes with lavatory? A priori

So why do we retain this odd sounding word? Does it supply a bit more decorum on that most abject space visited during the already uncomfortable experience of flight? Perhaps the name makes the place sound more regal than its austere reality. If so, the lavatory may function as a metonymy for the whole experience of commercial flight: it’s made to sound better, or at least different, than it really is.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Writing: sometimes it works

Writing: sometimes it works, especially when others are involved

Part of my job is to write. It's a weird part of the job because it's rather incalculable and very unpredictable—when it will happen, how it will turn out, whether it will end up in the dustbin of oblivion or be published somewhere (and then read or not, appreciated or spurned).

One of my students asked me the other day how I get from 'idea' to 'thing' when it comes to writing. Part of my answer involved collaboration: I would never get things done (much less started) without nudges, feedback, pushes, and pulls from the friends I've made and colleagues I've been lucky to have over the years. That's how the Brad Pitt book got written, and that's how Object Lessons was launched.

More recently, my great friend and colleague Mark Yakich and I co-wrote a short piece called "How Should a Professor Be?" This started off as a kind of tongue-in-cheek thought experiment, but as we wrote we gradually realized we had something to say that might actually be useful—for our own self-clarification, if nothing else. We were happy when an editor at Inside Higher Ed liked it and offered to publish it. (Lest we forget the key collaborations that happen between editors and writers....) Mark and I are also in the finishing stages of our edited collection of airplane reading nonfiction, which will be published sometime this coming spring.

Also recently, I wrote an essay about liberal arts education for Public Books that was prompted by conversations I've been having with my dean and a few colleagues about the mission of our college—I wouldn't have written it without having had multiple discussions over lunch about what we're doing here at Loyola, and why. And I wouldn't have sent it to Public Books without the encouragement from my editor there to send him another piece, after my essay about "critical thinking" garnered some interest over the summer.

Meanwhile, I'm currently working on a new piece of writing, with pokes and prods from my mate Ian Bogost, as savvy a line-editor as they come.

A somewhat tepid review of my new book The End of Airports was published by Publishers Weekly, but I am fortunate enough to have a supremely kind and astute editor at Bloomsbury, Haaris Naqvi, who talked me through what this meant and why not to worry. Then a few hours later the actual books arrived in the mail, and I'm staring at them, and they're beautiful, and I'm feeling like it works, thanks to lots of other people, sometimes, it all works, this wild thing called writing.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Summer Reading


reading a book set in Michigan while in Michigan

This is a partial summer reading list, which appeared in slightly different form on Roy Christopher's always excellent Summer Reading post, and with one addition:

Alphonso Lingis’s book Trust (University of Minnesota Press, 2004) is a fascinating blend of travel writing, philosophy, and what keen David Foster Wallace scholars might identify as a prose experiment in 'the new sincerity'. It is the kind of book that makes one want to write, and also to observe—and how to balance these impulses becomes a dynamic puzzle, a puzzle the book both solves while also flinging all the pieces at the reader.
I was won over by Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness: The End of a Diary (Graywolf, 2015), a book that makes the reader question the very premises of the book while persevering and following through to its satisfying conclusion. It is a book that accepts a certain constraint, and stays true to it—and the result is at turns utterly galling and totally admirable. In the end, Manguso throws down a gauntlet for any would-be diarist or journal keeper (really, any ‘author’!): it is a standard of unsettledness, a zombie aspiration for real-time writing.
Joanna Walsh’s forthcoming Hotel (Bloomsbury, 2015) in the Object Lessons series is a daring act of textual lingering, a vivid mashup of object-oriented thinking and psychoanalytic inquiry. When I first read Walsh’s manuscript I was stunned by its intensity and attentiveness—her book opens up whole new fields of thought and imagination for how a seemingly non-discrete ‘object’ might be accounted for, assembled, and written into. I could go on and on about each of the six Object Lessons books coming out this September, but, moving on…
Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven (Penguin, 2015) is such a wonderful post-apocalyptic novel that it immediately replaced Cormac McCarthy's The Road on my 20th-century American Fiction syllabus (we end with books in/about the present moment). One of the things critical things that Mandel's novel has that McCarthy forgot to include is his ruined landscape is...an airport.
Finally, Margret Grebowicz’s excellent The National Park to Come (Stanford Briefs, 2015) blew me away. It is a deft articulation and extension of current eco-theory, breaking new ground, as it were, while recognizing the very fraught terms of ‘breaking’, ‘ground’, and other such naturalized metaphors. The book is framed by a personal narrative, which at once complicates and gives passionate nuance to Grebowicz’s project.